President Trump’s address to Congress was more tempered in tone and less laden with inaccuracies than many of his previous remarks. Until he went off script.
Unlike his freewheeling news conferences and rallies, Mr Trump’s prepared text contained few outright falsehoods. But when he talked up his own achievements in NATO negotiations and military spending, his claims were at times exaggerated and misleading.
Here’s an assessment of some of them.
Mr. Trump characterized his Defense Department budget request as historic.
This is exaggerated. Mr Trump’s proposal to add $54 billion to the Pentagon’s budget amounts to a 10 percent increase, a significant but not historic hike.
Todd Harrison, the director of defence budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, posted this chart on Twitter, showing at least 10 higher increases since the fiscal year 1977 and four since 2002.
And this calculus does not take into account Overseas Contingency Operations, a separate bucket of money used to fund wars. Factoring in war spending, Mr Trump’s claim is even less credible.
Richard Kogan, a federal budget expert at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, calculated 27 years since 1940 in which total military spending was as high or higher than Mr Trump’s proposed increase. Even taking into account major and minor wars, military spending increased by 10 to 15 percent every year but one from 1975 to 1985.
“Outside major and minor wars, it’s still not true,” Kogan said. “As a percent of G.D.P., there have been roughly 35 years — half the time —when the increase has been as large or larger than what Trump is calling for.”
Mr Trump said NATO partners were not paying their fair share.
Partly true. NATO funding is split between direct contributions (financing overhead expenditures) and indirect contributions (financing operations).
How much each of NATO’s 28 member nations contributes to the alliance’s direct spending is proportional to G.D.P. The United States has the largest national income and contributes the most to NATO, at about 22 percent, but the other member nations all pay their bills.
Under NATO guidelines, members agreed to commit a minimum of 2 percent of G.D.P. on the alliance’s defence efforts, but few nations actually do so. The United States does fund a disproportionate amount of indirect spending, 72 percent, characterised by NATO as an “overreliance.”
Mr Trump claimed NATO partners have started paying their fair share, thanks to his urging.
This is misleading. Mr Trump appeared to have ad-libbed this claim, which did not appear in the speech text the White House released. NATO members agreed that nations currently not meeting the 2 percent of G.D.P. bar would so in the next decade, and that nations meeting it would continue to do so — but they did so in September 2014, nine months before Mr Trump announced his candidacy.
“And the reason for this is not Donald Trump — it’s Vladimir Putin, Russia’s actions in Crimea and aggressive stance,” said Ivo H. Daalder, a NATO ambassador under President Barack Obama.
While Mr Trump’s statements criticizing NATO members are helpful, every president since Harry Truman has asked the Europeans to contribute more Mr. Daalder added.
And money is not “pouring in.” Member nations have essentially halted cuts in their military spending, slowly reversing a downward trend.
Mr Trump suggested that the military does not have adequate resources.
This needs context. Top military officers have raised questions about the readiness of today’s army, with exhausted troops and depleted supplies. And the military budget did shrink slightly during the Obama administration as the United States pulled out of combat operations, and because of the budget restrictions imposed by Congress is known as sequestration.
Still, the United States spends more money on the military than the next seven countries combined do. Mr Trump and White House officials have pointed to a smaller Navy to bolster their claims of a weakened military. While today’s fleet size is the smallest since 1916, the ships are much more capable. And the United States has more aircraft carriers than any other nation in the world.
Mr Trump claimed money spent in wars abroad could have financed infrastructure projects at home — and then some.
This needs context. From 2000 to 2014, the United States spent about $1.6 trillion on the wars, according to the Congressional Research Service. Mr Trump’s $6 trillion figure also encompasses the cost of nation-building and future spending on veterans health care and disability, which he has vowed to improve.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a D+ in its latest report and estimated it would cost $3.6 trillion to repair. (The New York Times)